Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Who is Authorized to Baptize

This is the article of mine that was recently published on SBC Voices. I have now formatted it and put a copy on Issuu as an e-booklet experiment. It is also downloadable as a pdf file.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Only 3% of Protestant churches start a new church.

Ed Stetzer’s latest blog entry today had some interesting thoughts.

According to a 2008 survey by Lifeway, 85% of Protestant churches are involved in some way or another in missions. However, when asked specifically about that involvement, only 3% directly planted a church or sponsored a plant financially.

Could it be true that 97% don’t reproduce other churches?

The churches I grew up in all had a rich history of starting other churches in nearby communities. None of those churches have done that again in the last 25 years.

When was the last time the church you are a member of started a daughter church?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Remembering a Church Plant

A Story

A little over a decade ago, I was sitting in a lunch meeting of fellow ministers at my church. One of our associate pastors had been sharing with us over the past week that he would be moving on to a new ministry.

He was to help re-launch a church that, for all practical purposes, had died. There were still a handful of people who maintained the legal charter and kept up the property, but that was it.

Over some really good hamburgers, this brother shared his vision for what the church would become. “We are going to need some donations to get started. We need a video projector and a laptop computer, a sound system, and some chairs,” he confided. “We’re going to have a praise band and the whole thing is going to be contemporary.”

I am not sure what the other ministers were thinking at this point,but I listened with fascination as he described what the worship service would be like. It sounded cool, for lack of a better word. (To be honest, it wasn’t the kind of church service that would have appealed to me personally, but it seemed like something that would get a crowd.)

He then told us that there were several members from a number of different churches who would form a start-up team and become the charter members of the new church. The church would launch with services of nearly 100 in attendance.


I am not sure how long that church plant lasted, or if it is still there to this day. I do know that the presentation was enough to influence my missionary strategy when I first arrived here in Brazil. There were two very appealing things in that idea. One, was that by doing the same thing, I would be starting something unique and different. Two, I would have a pretty good level of control of what was going on.

I never got anything like that off the ground here, and I am glad I didn’t. Today, I really think that this method of planting churches (though it has its appropriate place and usefulness), is often built on a couple of faulty assumptions.

The first assumption is that if we have a better meeting space, more interesting programming, higher production-value media, a better band, and cooler websites, then we will better engage people and in turn disciple them better. (This applies both to traditional and contemporary styles. Just replace better bands with better choirs and orchestras.)

I haven’s seen where excessive focus on delivery and production increases a church’s effectiveness in transforming people. In fact, there seems to be a correlation that increasing the quality of the performance decreases the level of meaningful participation of the congregation. Discipleship is not passive, and never will be.

The second assumption is that new churches are best started with a core group of established Believers. These believers are perceived as offering a certain critical mass that gives credibility to the organization and stability to its structure. The problem is that most churches are no longer evangelistic as a defining characteristic once their meeting space is reasonably full and their budget is covered.

Church Plant or Transplant?

Recruiting a number of established Christians to leave their churches, even temporarily, to create a similar or improved version of what they are doing in another place is really a transplant rather than a plant, kind of like digging up an oak tree and moving it to another place. Nothing new is established.

Starting a new church among newly evangelized Christians in a way that is size appropriate with a structure that matches the need is more like planting an acorn. It will grow as its DNA intends.

An oak tree and an acorn are the same in their DNA, but much different in their appearance. I can pick up and acorn and put it in my pocket. I can’t do that with an oak tree. In fact, there is not much I can do to an oak tree. It’s too big.

A single acorn can produce an immense oak. A single, growing oak tree can produce countless acorns, each with the potential to produce another oak tree. It makes no sense to “plant” churches in a way that is akin to transplanting an oak. It is expensive, task heavy, and in the end, produces nothing. (One might find a place where the tree can grow better, but it is still the same tree.) Instead, oak churches should be producing and planting acorn churches abundantly.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Seven Billion Souls - Considerations for Evangelism

World Population: 7,000,000,000 and counting.

world pop smA few months ago the newspapers and magazines here in Brazil were headlining the the 7,000,000,000th baby had been born somewhere in India. This, of course, just a guess based on the UN’s 2010 Revision of the World Population Prospects. According to the US Census Bureau we won’t reach that number until March 12th, 2012.


The world population has increased by 4 billion since 1960.

The amazing thing in these reports is not really that we’ve made it to seven billion as a planet, but that it has come so rapidly. Fifty years ago there were right at three billion people living on the planet, now there are seven. According to most predictions, in just fifteen years time, we will add yet another billion to our planet.

Discipleship must outstrip the population growth rate. In the US, it doesn’t.

In the US, our Southern Baptist Convention churches are discipling at this rate:

  • There are about 313 million people in the US, less than 5% of the world.
  • There are about 16 million SBC Christians, about 5% of the US population.
  • It takes 50 SBC Christians together a year’s time to baptize a single disciple.
  • Each baptism comes at an average cost of $35,000 in church spending.
  • It takes 65 SBC churches together a year’s time to start one new church.
*Source: 2010 church growth indicators for the Southern Baptist Convention

Now, to be fair, one must also consider that the SBC is the largest missions sending agency in the world, and these numbers do not reflect the foreign mission work these churches fund. On the other hand, delegating someone to “do the work for you” is not really full obedience.

The bottom line is that disciple making and church planting are not in the DNA of the majority of SBC churches. These churches, by their fruit, show that they either do not know how to grow the kingdom, or do not care. Personally, I believe they do care, but just don’t know how to change.

Questions for your church.

  • Is my church currently reproducing spiritual newborns at a higher rate than the population growth?
  • Is my church currently reproducing other churches at a higher rate than the population growth?
  • What is it going to take to be able to answer those questions affirmatively?



I just started reading an article that is putting some perspective on this. The article “When Feelings Bend Statistics,” gives some good arguments against the unnecessary pessimism with respect to world evangelization. The article is over 2o years old, but gives a good reason for pause on the hand wringing.

Here is an interesting graph from the article:

Diminishing Task

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